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A capitalist approach to get us off carbon

Published April 18, 2013 5:28 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Though environmentalists deserve credit for their noble efforts to save whales from extinction, I would propose that Edwin Drake, who in 1859 drilled the first oil well near Titusville, Penn., had the greater impact.

It was Drake and other prescient American industrialists who, thinking practically, recognized the imminent dead end of investing in whale hunts as a way to satisfy the industrializing world's voracious appetite for a sustainable energy supply.

The result: An energy revolution in petroleum was born and the whale was saved.

Fast-forward 150 years. With ample scientific backing, environmentalists tell us all the things we must do to reverse the effects of climate change; otherwise, like the whale, we may all be on the verge of extinction.

Will that dire warning be sufficient to get us to mend our ways? Or, like Edwin Drake, will it be the capitalists, the inventors, the forward-thinking entrepreneurs and investors, who understand very clearly that the day is soon coming when poking a hole in the ground is no more profitable than poking a hole in a whale? That whoever takes the lead in exploiting the potential of the coming energy revolution, tapping the limitless energy of the sun, wind, water, and Earth's internal heat, will reap the greatest rewards?

If, as a result, we reverse the effects of climate change, so much the better.

Right now, America is way behind in the race. Many of our leaders still deny the fact of climate change (Utah's Stewart skeptical about climate change threat," Tribune, March 30) and we still scrape the ground in more and more desperately expensive and environmentally degrading ways in a losing effort to extract the last dram of fossil fuel from the Earth.

We can't keep doing this forever. That is why it is so important to support legislation like the Climate Protection Act (S. 332) sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders.

By imposing a tax on fossil fuels and carbon, and having all the revenue returned to citizens, we acknowledge that the days of dirty fuel are near an end. We clean up our air and mitigate the damage of climate change without harm to the economy. And we funnel the attention of the best and brightest of today's Drakes to a future of prosperity and energy freedom through the harnessing of clean and renewable sources of power.

Gerald Elias, musician and author, is a member of Citizens Climate Lobby. He lives in Salt Lake City.